Severed limbs, cannons and squirrel banjos at DHS |

Severed limbs, cannons and squirrel banjos at DHS

DHS junior Destinee Viayra fires a Civil War cannon Friday at Douglas High with the help of re-enactor Hunter Ketcham of the Union Army.
Brad Coman

Severed arms, bloodied rags, revolvers, cannons and muskets littered the front lawn of Douglas High School in the name of education on Friday afternoon.

Students of Ethan Petite’s mixed-level “History of Human Conflict” class were treated to a reenactment of the American Civil War as a part of their curriculum.

The Nevada Civil War Volunteer club came for two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to teach students hands-on about different aspects of the war as well as the time period.

“You can study all you want in books,” said Sophomore Conor Agnason, “but it can’t hold a candle to the hands-on experience.”

The club members, who have been touring reenactments to schools and public events for 30 years, were a wealth of knowledge for students. Some had personal connections to the civil war.

David Cooper is one of the volunteer re-enactors, who taught the students about the types of items soldiers’ would carry with them in the field.

One of the items he demonstrated was his own great-grandfather’s Bible he had carried with him during the Civil War.

“My great-grandfather Phillip A. Cooper, was in the 140th battalion from Pennsylvania, in C Company,” said Cooper. “He was 1 of 29 men who made it through without being injured or captured. I do this as a way to honor him, and to honor his legacy.”

There are about 140 members in the club overall, with 90 of them active reenactors.

They visit about 10 schools a year, in all weather.

On days like Friday, when the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze to keep both students and volunteers temperate, the club can roll out their big guns — literally.

On days of more inclement weather, however, they will lecture to classes in smaller numbers, focusing on history classes ranging from the fourth grade to seniors in high school, detailing the lives of soldiers.

There were seven rotational camps set up on the lawn, each with a specific aspect of the time period to demonstrate to students.

In the Union camps, students learned about items soldiers carried on their backs, the types of period instruments soldiers would have made and used on the field (including squirrel skin banjos and bone percussion sticks), correspondence and writing instruments, the Pinkerton’s infiltrating Confederate camps, and field surgery.

In the Confederate camps, students learned about weaponry, and were each allowed to load and fire a Civil War cannon.

“It was really amazing,” said Senior Darren Caldera. “I’ve heard about how cannons and guns work, but seeing it in person is much more satisfying.”

In the 14th Texas Battalion Camp, led by Sgt. Darren Loupe and Sgt. David Child, students learned how muskets were loaded and fired on the battlefield.

“Our job is to repel the invading Yankees,” said Loupe. “We don’t want to invade the North, we just want to be left alone. No self-respecting Southerner would let a Yankee walk in to our country.”

This isn’t the first hands-on experience Petite’s history of human conflict class has been involved in this year. This is the second year of the program, after about 150 students voted on a new elective class.

They decided they wanted to learn about three things: warfare, terrorism, and genocide.

Petite was more than happy to oblige.

“We’ve had a lot of fun so far,” said Petite. “We just did a lesson on fencing, and an instructor came in to teach the students hands-on about sword fighting. That class was in the gym that day, for obvious reasons.”

The students have also learned about Samurai war styles and taking control of Japan, and they will soon create simulations in the form of a war game when they move into World War II.

At the end of the semester, they hope to teach archery in class, once a certification comes through for Petite.

The students themselves were very happy with their activity for the afternoon.

“It’s really important to be able to learn first-hand and interact with the things we’ve been studying in class,” said Junior Carson Hearn. “Getting that hands-on experience is essential to our studies.”

If the students and Petite have it their way, the interactive experiences will only continue.

“In most history classes fun, educational activities really take secondary place to studying from textbooks and lectures,” said Petite. “Because this is an elective class, we make sure to have the activities come first.”

Next year, he hopes to acquire a Roman shield, to teach the students about the use of shields in the battle, in addition to his growing armor collection.

Until then, they have cannons, squirrel-skin banjos, and a decently sized pile of severed limbs to interact with.